MAHOPAC, N.Y. - The aroma of coffee and a stack of mugs greets customers at The Freight House Cafe, a mashup of a restaurant, bar, and hang-out spot all neatly tucked away in a corner off Route 6 in Mahopac.
The elongated rectangle building, with a patio in the back for nice days and dog owners, has a rich history;. It was built in 1872 for the New York Central and Hudson Railroad branch and serviced freight and passengers from Goldens Bridge to Grand Central Terminal for more than 50 years.
And while the building might be well known, what’s inside is likely Mahopac’s best kept secret.
Within The Freight House Cafe, owner and chef Donna Massaro has created a spot that’s both eclectic and homey, pairing dark wooden furniture with handwritten signs, funky décor, and putting forth a menu of lunch and breakfast items driven by local and healthy ingredients.
The food is made-to-order, which Massaro knows takes longer than it would to have prepared items, but she doesn’t want to compromise on quality.
She can tell you the origin of each of the menu items, beginning with the farmer who grew the food. The butter and ketchup are made inhouse from those fresh ingredients and Himalayan sea salt is used to flavor all the food.
And the coffee. Oh, the coffee. Just like your own kitchen, mismatched mugs are piled up on the counter waiting to be filled with steaming hot coffee from Bear Mountain Coffee Roasters, a micro roastery in the Hudson Valley.
Massaro opened the cafe eight years ago as a culmination of her life experiences. She was born and raised in Mahopac and found her purpose in life when she responded to an email inviting her to check out the culinary program at The Art Institute of New York City.
“I got this email from The Art Institute of NYC a while back and I left it for some reason – I delete all my other emails – and I would look at it every blue moon. I didn’t know that I’d want to be a chef and one day I opened it up after it had been sitting in my inbox for six months, called the number and talked to this man on the phone, Mr. Wallace, who told me to come down and meet with him,” Massaro said, “I never connected with any of my teachers during high school…but he just took me under his wing. He guided me through and helped me pick classes.”
After culinary school, Massaro ended up back in Mahopac, working as a waitress during the day and hanging at the bar at night with the same crew she’d known since elementary school. It was during one of those late nights when, on a whim, she offered to drive with a friend crosscountry to Lake Tahoe where she ended up moving shortly after.
She waitressed and dreamed about her future, but a family tragedy brought her back to Mahopac.
Again in her hometown, Massaro was feeling lost when she remembered a business plan she had scrawled out and tucked away in a leopard hat box that would lay the groundwork for the Freight House Cafe.
“My vision is what you see here,” Massaro said, gesturing around the cafe. She had come close to purchasing other locations when she was showed the old freight house, which at the time was storage for the adjacent Putnam Music Center.
“There were old boxes of guitars and music stuff from Gus at Putnam Music Center,” Massaro said. “When the landlord opened the 146-year-old slider door, my heart fluttered and my dad said, ‘This place is a dump.’”
She started writing up her menu, focusing on foods that would fill you up and make you feel good and that she could get locally.
“There’s a couple reasons for that,” Massaro explained. “We know where the food is coming from. It’s a direct connection with the people growing our food. It keeps the money in the area and supports the local farmers who need us desperately during this time. It’s also healthier for our bodies.”
With that mission guiding the cafe, she transformed the historic freight house into a place she’d want to hang out. It’s open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and again from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays.
There’s a full bar to accompany the live music on the weekends.
“I want to reach the people that don’t know we’re here yet. They’re missing out,” Massaro said. “I want them to enjoy this.”
She sees her cafe as an example of farm-to-table dining done in a sustainable way for the benefit of the community.
When asked if she had a favorite menu item, Massaro couldn’t choose, but she was able to immediately say what she liked best about being owner of the Freight House Cafe.
“My customers are so great – I get choked up,” Massaro said. “. It’s hard for a single woman to live, work and play in the town she grew up in, but I have to tell you, the people I meet every day, my customers, my lifelong friends, it’s a beautiful thing. I’m very lucky to be here.”